Friday, December 17, 2010

What the Heck Took So Long?

Governor Abercrombie of Hawaii has finally promised to bring all Hawaiian prisoners housed on the mainland in private prisons home. Apparently, the two deaths (probably by assault) of Hawaiian men in their 20s was not enough to prompt this decision, but the recent class action lawsuit filed by Hawaiian prisoners convinced him this was the right thing to do. Better late than never, I suppose

Lawsuit Against CCA settles

A lawsuit brought by the ACLU against CCA and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has just reached settlement. The lawsuit stemmed from deplorably inadequate medical and mental health care at the San Diego Correctional Facility, a huge CCA prison which houses immigration detainees for ICE.

The settlement mandates that CCA hire more nurses and come into compliance with medical care standards set by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Additionally, ICE will not longer be able to deny care to inmates in non-emergency situations. They now must treat any serious medical issue immediately. It's actually kind of frightening that they had to be ordered by a court to do this, but hey, at least the poor immigrants they house won't be denied care for serious issues in the future

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hawaiian Prisoners Sue CCA

18 Hawaiian prisoners housed in a CCA facility in Arizona are suing the company following ongoing patterns of abuse at the facility. Among the allegations are that "'The guards are banging their heads on tables, threatening them, beating them, kicking them, punching them,' In written statements the inmates have sent to Rapp, they say they have been forced to stand in the cold in their underwear, kicked while they are on the ground, and denied the opportunity to change their clothes for days." And on top of the repeated assaults and abuses, CCA guards intentionally falsified documents and tried to cover up the evidence of their wrongdoing.

This is the same facility where 2 Hawaiian men in their 20s died this past year of suspicious causes. Clearly, CCA is having some difficulty keeping the Hawaiian prisoners housed safely, as they seem to do with just about all their prisoners.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Three Days Too Late?

I originally decided not to write about the linked story because I didn't think it was super news-worthy, at least for this blog. About 2 weeks ago, California finalized a deal to send another 5,800 prisoners to private prisons in other states, in addition to the approximately 9,000 they already house out-of-state due to severe overcrowding within their own system. While they continue to fight against a court order to release 45,000 prisoners, and steadily fail to implement any sort of sentencing or parole reform that could reduce the population, California's government has decided to subject an even greater proportion of its prisoners to the abuses of private prisons.

Yes, that's definitely bad. But what prompted me to write about this decision is a letter that was sent three days later. Not just any letter, but one from the Inspector General of California, who had just completed an audit of out-of-state private prisons that house California prisoners.

In the letter, which describes the findings of the audit, the Inspector General details the problems his office uncovered in their work. I often feel that when I write on here, I am unable to convey the range, severity, and pervasiveness of the problems that plague private prisons. Maybe it's because I try to focus on individual issues within private prisons, maybe it's something else. But I rarely feel like I do a sufficient job of describing how a multitude of abuses, neglect, and violations of human/civil rights can all co-exist at a private prison, and the toll their compounded effect can take. This letter from the IG achieves at least the former; the litany of issues decribed in a mere 11 pages is astounding.

Among the issues described: Using Administrative Segregation (solitary confinement) unecessarily, discriminating against Hispanic prisoners in program access, poor screening of COs before they're hired, prisoners in secure areas, not requiring COs to have weapons training, improper evidence handling, using an unapproved Use-of-Force policy, and inmates not even being provided with up-to-date facility rules. I know, that's a lot to take in. Taken together, the potential for violations of prisoners' rights is astronomical.

But maybe the most serious issue is the widespread failure of private prisons to maintain an adequate prisoner grievance process. Boxes that hold grievances forms were often unlocked and poorly monitored. Why is this the most serious issue? Because for a lot of these prisoners, those grievance forms are maybe the only recourse they have when their rights are violated. By not only subjecting these poor men to abuse, but then effectively denying or silencing their right to grieve the abuses they suffer (and they do have an affirmative right to grieve), these prisons amount to little more than closely-controlled totalitarian regimes.

So despite the findings by the IG of California that private, out-of-state prisons which house California's prisoners are essentially s**tholes, they're going to send more people there. That's just wonderful.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hitting the Nail on the Head

From the tendency of poorly trained and low-paid staff to be susceptible to bribes, to how the supposed but unproven "cost savings" of privatizing prisons never matriculates its way down to the average taxpayers, just published one of the most magnificent and pointed editorials on private prisons I've seen in a long time. I strongly recommend you take the time to read it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Monkey See...

State Senator Bill Ketron of Tennessee is close to introducing his own version of SB1070 in his home state. His version will closely mirror the "Breathing While Brown" law, because ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) provided him with a template based on the original super-racist, private prison-friendly bill. A dose of reality was dished out by another conservative state Rep (Vance Dennis) however, who said "Obviously, if you increase the number of folks that are being deported or processed through the federal immigration enforcement, you could potentially increase the need for those prison beds...I imagine any private company that operates prisons could potentially benefit from that."

For a nice editorial on the proposed legislation and consequences that are easy to anticipate, see this article.

More on the Revolving Door at the USMS

An excellent piece from the Daily Kos regarding a shining example of revolving-door politics; the nomination of Stacia Hylton, who has worked in high-level positions with both CCA and the GEO Group, to head the US Marshal's Service.

Despite the fact that Obama has pledged to work to shut the revolving door between industry leadership and government, Ms. Hylton has been nominated to lead an agency responsible for a sizeable portion of the income of the industry she has worked in for years. Unfortunately, the process has been mostly favorable to Ms. Hylton, whose work with private prison operators was largely ignored in Committee hearings. Her nomination has been passed on to the full Senate for approval. Sigh.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Blatant Conflict of Interest

You really can't make this stuff up. Harry Coates, a state senator from Oklahoma, is having an affair with a lobbyist. Right, no surprise there. It gets a little thorny however when one learns that the lobbyist he is sleeping with, 29-year-old Haley Atwood, works for a company (Rite of Passage) that recently won a $10 million per year contract to operate a new private juvenile detention center. A contract that Coates was instrumental in helping to secure. Of course, both parties claim the affair has nothing to do with Coates' support of the contract. Sure, a 60 year old state senator and a woman less than half his age would only be in it for the love, right?

Thankfully, though, the awarding of the contract has been delayed. Apparently, their relationship could have led to the bidding process being rigged. I'm stunned.

UPDATE: The Oklahoma Attorney General is reviewing how the contract came to be awarded to Rite of Passage.

I Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself

The fabulous and multi-talented Alex Friedmann at Private Corrections Institute was recently interviewed regarding the release of security footage from the assault of Hanni Elabed at the Idaho Correctional Facility, run by CCA. CCA was upset about the release of the footage, which comes from a facility currently being sued over levels of violence so extreme it's called "Gladiator School" by the residents.

Mr. Friedmann's take on CCA's response to the video release? "The only unnecessary risk it poses is to CCA's liability in prisoner assault cases and the notion CCA's employees are corrections professionals."

Exact-amundo. And for much more in-depth coverage of the current FBI investigation into conditions at the prison, check out this article.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lawsuits Galore

CCA has become a frequent target of litigation in the past few weeks. In addition to the two lawsuits I wrote about previously (here and here), a few others have been filed against or settled recently by the company.

The title link goes to a suit that was just filed on behalf of a Cuban immigrant, who was in the US legally but was unlawfully detained by CCA for over a year beyond his release date while they questioned his immigration status (which, mind you, they don't actually have any authority to do). Alberto Gonzalez Raza, a prominent and beloved local businessman, suffered two heart attacks and a stroke while being incarcerated well beyond his release date, and lost his business while locked up. His medical treatment was so bad while he was in prison that he asked to be deported, even though he was in this country legally.

Also, a woman just reached a settlement with CCA after she was taken hostage by a prisoner that escaped from one of their facilities. The lawsuit alleged, probably rightfully so, that the guards were negligent in watching the prisoner while he was at a hospital for medical treatment, from which he escaped.

Finally, while it has not yet resulted in a lawsuit (though I hope and imagine it will), an 18 year old woman in a CCA facility recently lost her baby. The woman received "no prenatal care" while incarcerated, and lost her baby after being left alone in a cell for hours, crying out for medical attention

Where's the Logic? Redux

Members of Arizona's legislature have proposed privatizing even more of the state's prisons, in addition to the 5,000 private beds they have requested proposals for (along with privatizing some state parks. Yes, state parks). All this despite the fact that numerous reports have come out, including an audit by the state of Arizona, showing that private prisons are more expensive to operate and less safe than government facilities.

Really, it's time to get over this whole "the free market is infallible" misperception that exists in this country. Privatizing services is not always the best option. In fact, introducing a profit motive to certain functions can sometimes be a very bad thing, such as in the private prison industry. Or private health insurance. Or private defense. There are just some things in life where profit should not be the number-one, overarching concern. Governments ALWAYS operate prisons better and more efficiently that private companies, mostly because they aren't seeking a profit and can therefore devote all resources to operating a safe and humane facility. For as much as people disparage and hate on prisoners, they're still people, and deserving of at least a modicum of dignity and respect, which is exceedingly difficult to come by in private prisons.

No, government may not be extremely efficient in all that it does, but private corporations aren't necessarily that efficient either. Until we break this perception that privatization is always better, just because, we will continue to waste taxpayer dollars by funneling them to large corporations who don't give a damn about us. We have a prison industrial complex in this country largely because there's money to be made in it. It's high time to eliminate that motivation.

CCA is Unfair to Its Employees

CCA and other private prison companies traditionally don't hire unionized corrections officers, which allows them to pay their employees far less than what state employees earn. This is the biggest area of legitimate cost savings offered by privatization, but it often comes at a price (see: everything I've ever written about the quality of guards at private prisons).

CCA is currently facing a challenge from a union in Arizona that represents about 1/3 of the employees at a CCA facility. These officers want half the raise that was just awarded to ICE officers. CCA is offering them 10 cents more per hour, on a salary that already pales in comparison to what governments pay for similar work.

For a much more in-depth analysis of the contract negotiations, go here.

Where's the Logic?

I rarely write about the companies that provide specialized contracted services to prisons (as opposed to companies that manage entire facility operations), but you should know that they are their own inefficient, despicable mess as well. Linked here is an editorial out of Kentucky that discusses the state's planned decision to renew its contract with Aramark to provide food service to its prisoners. This is the same Aramark that has come under fire in numerous states for cutting corners in its food delivery, often serving rotted and barely nutritious meals to prisoners. Their food service is so bad in fact that it caused riots among prisoners in Kentucky and protests in Georgia over the company's failure to feed them properly. Throughout its history, Aramark has faced numerous allegations such as these, along with allegations of unfair labor and hiring practices. So yeah they're a model company.

Aramark has a $12 million per year contract to feed Kentucky's prisoners, a contract that says the state auditor should basically have complete access to their records of operation. However, when that office requested documents for an audit last year, they of course got a lot of pushback from Aramark, which refused to release everything the state had requested. So much pushback in fact that they are now being investigated for breach of contract. But even with the scant records provided, some of the preliminary findings of the audit include: "billing errors resulting in overpayments running into the tens of thousands of dollars, delays in service caused by food shortages, unapproved changes in menus, questions about the quantity of the food being served and a health department report on a possible outbreak of food-related illness among prisoners."

And the legislature plans on renewing the contract.

Catching Up

Good Morning.  As I mentioned before, I failed to report on some major issues that had surfaced over the past month or so, which I am hoping to rectify now.  Today's first link goes to a brief story following up on Jan Brewer's office's connections to CCA through the lobbying firm High Ground Consulting, which is run by her campaign chairman.  It turns out the favors run both ways.

High Ground's client list has nearly doubled since Brewer became governor, giving a higher profile to Chuck Coughlin and his company. And now a dozen employees of High Ground's clients have landed positions on boards and appointments to state government positions.  A former senior director of CCA is now the chairman of the Arizona Commission on Privatization and Efficiency (I imagine they're aware of the irony in that nomenclature).  In fact, Chuck Coughlin has such a close and beneficial relationship with Brewer's office that it prompted numerous current and former representatives to remark that "The position and influence Coughlin enjoys is unusual."